DAYS OF OBLIGATION

AN ARGUMENT WITH MY MEXICAN FATHER

Ten years after his first book, Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez again threatens to redefine the way we think about ethnicity, education, and religion in present-day America. And he does so in disarmingly baroque prose—poetical, nuanced, and, at times, heroic. Rodriguez's essays are informed by his ``Latin skepticism'' and his ``firm belief in Original Sin and the limits of possibility.'' Hardly the typical posture for a cosmopolitan Californian who lives in sybaritic San Francisco in one of its Victorian ``doll houses for libertines.'' But then again, there's nothing typical about Rodriguez, whether he's meditating on the AIDS epidemic; musing on the legend of the notorious bandit Joaquin Murrieta; or mucking about the reconstructed missions in southern California. Rodriguez travels to Mexico, where, he says, the Indian suffers from ``Gitchigooism''—the habit of placing him outside history, and of treating him as a ``mascot of the international ecology movement.'' Like the belligerent Chicano, the Mexican denies the power of miscegenation and assimilation. Rodriguez, on the other hand, understands the future of the West—of America itself—as a struggle between two traditions: the comedy of California, with its Protestant faith in individualism, played against the tragedy of Mexico, with its communal legacy of Catholicism. While his immigrant father clings to the sadness of the past, Rodriguez embraces contradiction. He seeks out order in the exuberant Protestant chaos; he embodies the conflict of theologies in his often ambivalent behavior. At the slightest hint of ideology, Rodriguez retreats into poetry and irony. His aloofness is worthy of Naipaul; his vision of America echoes Ralph Ellison; and his gimlet eye reminds us of Joan Didion—though he's the Catholic, middle-class postscript to her Protestant anomie. Rodriguez's moral and aesthetic imagination guarantees that this beautiful book will linger long after the polemics in the culture wars subside. Everywhere here, one is in the presence of a superior sensibility, all the more remarkable for its modest beginnings.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-670-81396-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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